Tag Archives: ron howard

‘Hillbilly Elegy’ Review

See, this is what happens when you don’t give people their Oscars when they deserve them; they put on a bunch of makeup and take on heavy-handed family dramas.

“Hillbilly Elegy” is based on the memoir of the same name by J.D. Vance about his upbringing in rural Ohio, and the struggles he faced with his drug addict mother (Amy Adams) and no-nonsense grandmother (Glenn Close). Gabriel Basso portrays Vance as a young man and Owen Asztalos plays him as a boy, while Ron Howard directs.

Glenn Close is a seven-time Oscar nominee and should have finally won for her work in “The Wife,” but was upset(ish) by Olivia Coleman in “The Favourite” (the real point of contention there being most argue Coleman was a supporting role, not a lead). Not to be outdone, Amy Adams is herself a six-time nominee, and most of the time simply goes up against better competition (on two occasions even facing off against her co-stars). Much like Leonardo DiCaprio and others before them in an all-out attempt to finally get that trophy, Close and Adams are seemingly throwing off the gloves and putting on the prosthetics, as they are both nearly unrecognizable in their roles as strict mother figures. Their performances are solid, especially Close, but that is about all “Hillbilly Elegy” has going for it.

From chewing scenery in “101 Dalmatians” to spewing nonsense words in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” Glenn Close always seems to be enjoying her roles, even the more serious ones. She is also one of our more underrated actresses, possibly due in part to the fact she has never taken home that one elusive trophy. She may finally have her name called on Oscar night for “Hillbilly Elegy,” a role that she is almost unrecognizable in. At times sweet and caring, at others strict and sharp but never cruel, Close carries the film like her Mamaw carries the Vance clan. The scenes with Close are by far the film’s strong points, and you notice when she is not there.

Amy Adams is solid (when is she bad?) but I wouldn’t be surprised if she doesn’t even land an Oscar nomination here. This is the kind of role that actors do when they want awards, and at times you just get the “this is my Oscar scene” vibes from Adams. Her character is a free spirit but also controlling of her children, and I found it hard to root for her; but I feel that comes down to Vanessa Taylor’s script.

The film jumps back and forth between 1997 and 2011, following J.D.’s struggles as a youth then his attempt to get a summer law job at Yale. Young J.D. at times comes off like a complete idiot, and not just because he is at risk of flunking math. Some of the things he says and does, like running into a table while chasing a dog or dancing into a display in store (or saying “Native Americans know they’re going to die”) just make him seem unbelievably stupid, and it is hard to believe that this kid would grow up to attend Yale law school.

In fact, everyone in this film does not act like any person based in reality, and the script never establishes any flow. People have sudden mood swings (J.D. and his mom go from buddy-buddy to him yelling how he hates her in a matter of five seconds), and things just don’t make sense from a character standpoint (teenage J.D. turns down smoking weed but just a few scenes later is tossing back a beer like it’s nothing).

“Hillbilly Elegy” may be remembered as a Trivial Pursuit answer for “what film did Glenn Close finally win her Academy Award for?” but otherwise it is a pretty bland and at times contrived family drama. Ron Howard has made some great films, and we know he can manage family dramas, but this was just a swing and a miss on almost every level. I didn’t see myself or my family in any character, and none of them are interesting enough in their own right to root for. Just a bunch of missed opportunities given all the talent involved…

Critics Rating: 4/10

‘Solo’ Isn’t Special, but it is Fun

No matter how good the films are, I worry that we are creeping dangerously close to the point where “Star Wars” will lose its magic and we no longer eagerly look forward to the release of a new one…

“Solo: A Star Wars Story” is the origin story to the character of Han Solo, portrayed in the original trilogy by Harrison Ford. Here, Alden Ehrenreich takes over the reins of the character, with Donald Glover as his friend Lando Calrissian (originally played by Billy Dee Williams), Joonas Suotamo as the Wookie Chewbacca and Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Paul Bettany all in new roles. Ron Howard directs after taking over for Christopher Miller and Phil Lord, who were fired by Lucasfilm midway through filming.

You won’t read a single review about this film that doesn’t bring up the behind-the-scenes drama that plagued production so I won’t beat a dead horse, but in case you aren’t familiar with the situation here are the bullet points. Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, best known for helming the “Jump Street” movies, were originally hired to do the film but after they encouraged a lot of improve and were getting away from the script the studio fired them and brought in Ron Howard, who in turn reshot about 70% of the movie (some even say it’s up to 90%), ballooning the budget to $250 million. No one was really clamoring for a Han Solo origin story in the first place, part of what people like about him is his mystery, but as turns out, for a film with this much going against it, it isn’t half bad.

I was very high on Alden Ehrenreich after his show-stealing performance in “Hail, Caesar!” and when he was cast as Solo I got excited. Even after his bland turn in Warren Beatty’ s ”Rules Don’t Apply” I still thought he had the charisma to play a young Han Solo. And it’s odd, because half the time here he does have the swagger, cockiness and dry wit of Harrison Ford and it makes you have flashes of the iconic character. But at other points he seems lost, timid and almost a secondary role in his own film. I’m not sure if it was the direction (/change in directors), script or pressure of the role, but it was just odd to see him give half of a good performance.

Everyone else here is fine, with Woody Harrelson being a mentor of sorts and sneaking a few funny bits in here or there, Emilia Clarke is given little to do except stand there and be a goal and reminder of Han’s past and Donald Glover (naturally) oozes charm and panache as Lando, although he’s a bit of an extended cameo.

The action scenes are solid, with two big set pieces on a snowy train and inside a jail riot, although there isn’t anything as memorably iconic as “the hallway scene” from “Rogue One” or the Obi Wan-Anakin fight in “Revenge of the Sith.” Cinematographer Bradford Young, who earned an Oscar nomination for “Arrival,” gives the film a gritty, at times gold hue and I think it does a good job making this feel like its own little film in the sprawling Star Wars universe, not being so polished.

Speaking of “Rogue One,” much like the hallway scene there is a fun surprise that fans of the franchise will enjoy and it is cool to see some of the “how did Han end with [like this]?” questions get fleshed out. That being said the rest of the film does tend to suffer from the natural problems origin stories do, meaning it fills in too many holes about the character’s past or even gives us answers we didn’t even know we were supposed to be asking.

“Solo: A Star Wars Story” is very competently made and I think does just enough to earn its place in the saga’s legacy. I can’t say that I will ever have a dying urge to see it again or that I want to see more of these spin-offs, but I do think it is worth the one-time watch. It isn’t anywhere near as ambitious as “The Last Jedi,” comforting as “The Force Awakens” or great at giving us closure to storylines like “Rogue One” but for what it had to do, and all it had working against it, I’d say things turned out alright.

Critic’s Grade: B